A judge on Tuesday denied Roman Polanski’s request to be reinstated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, finding that the organization behind the Oscars had a right to expel him in May 2018.
Polanski sued the Academy in April 2019, alleging that he had been thrown out without any warning and without a fair process. Polanski fled the United States in 1978, after pleading guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old girl. He has remained a fugitive ever since, and efforts to extradite him have been unsuccessful.
Judge Mary Strobel concluded that while the Academy could have given Polanski advance notice, the organization had ultimately corrected that failing and given him a fair hearing. She adopted a tentative ruling that she had issued earlier on Tuesday as her final order.
“Board had cause to expel Petitioner,” Strobel wrote. “While the Board could have found the circumstances surrounding Petitioner’s continued fugitive status, including his allegations of serious judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, mitigated the need for expulsion, the Board’s decision is supported by the evidence, was not arbitrary or capricious, and was not an abuse of discretion.”
Polanski’s attorney, Harland Braun, said he would probably not appeal. Asked why Academy membership was important to Polanski, Braun said it was not.
“It means nothing to him,” Braun said. “It’s the idea he’s being thrown out without any due process.”
The hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court was held remotely, with the judge in chambers and the attorneys for the Academy appearing via videoconference. But Braun appeared in the courtroom in person, wearing a mask, and carrying a copy of “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood.”
Over the years, Braun has repeatedly asked that Polanski be sentenced in absentia, which would allow him to travel freely. But the Los Angeles courts have said that he must return to the U.S. first.
The civil suit against the Academy gave Braun a venue to reargue some of the claims that have not prevailed before the criminal courts. During the hearing, he spoke for about 30 minutes straight about the unfairness of the case, and the rulings of courts in Switzerland and Poland that refused to return him to the U.S.
“Is he supposed to come into a court system he doesn’t trust?” Braun asked. “Mr. Polanski has already done all the time he owes our system.”
Braun cited “An Officer and a Spy,” the French-language film Polanski recently made about the Dreyfus Affair, and compared Polanski’s situation to that of Alfred Dreyfus, the French military officer who was railroaded in an anti-Semitic panic.
“There’s a similarity,” Braun said. “Alfred Dreyfus was innocent, and Mr. Polanski is guilty. There’s no question. He’s never denied his guilt. But when the French military realized they made a mistake, they couldn’t admit it. It was the bureaucracy. And in this case, judge after judge ignores the obvious solutions… This case is not gonna be forgotten. This case is like a Dreyfus case. It’s maybe more interesting than the Dreyfus case.”
Braun also mentioned that he had seen “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the Quentin Tarantino film that features Polanski and deals with the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate. He said he advised Polanski not to watch it.
“It’s not a very good movie in my opinion,” Braun said, saying it “made fun” of Polanski and presented Tate as a “joke.”
Outside court, Braun said that he believed that only one or two Academy members were behind the decision to expel Polanski.
Kristen Bird, arguing the case for the Academy, said the Academy was not in a position to adjudicate the criminal court proceedings. She said the Academy had demonstrated that its decision was not arbitrary or capricious, and said the only question was whether it was “long overdue.”
“He was given an opportunity to be heard,” she said. “There’s not any new information.”